Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Rob Turner was cruising toward re-election with nothing remarkable to taint his 16-year tenure — until a former human resources director filed a discrimination claim against him for sending her pornographic emails, that is.
Turner fired her, and the incident drew calls for him to resign, as well as a challenge in the Republican primary from state Sen. Ronda Storms.
Turner's main defense in this contest is that he's good at his job and has saved taxpayers money.
"Our budget is $1 million less today than when I took office 16 years ago," he wrote in answers to questions from the Tampa Bay Times.
Given the rate of inflation and the vast expansion in property development in Hillsborough since 1996, we wondered if that could be true.
Each year, the appraiser's office proposes a budget and submits it to the state Department of Revenue. The department applies a nonpolitical cost analysis to those numbers, and then usually approves a little more or a little less than what is requested, a difference that may be as negligible as a few hundred dollars. The department then tells the county tax collector how much money to disburse from ad valorem taxes. The county commission is notified, but it doesn't get a say in the budget.
The first budget Turner was responsible for was for the 1997-98 fiscal year, totaling $11.8 million. Over the years, Turner gradually reduced staff, resulting in the current workforce of 130. He says with pride that none of those positions were lost due to layoffs, and his office confirmed the staff reductions were achieved through retirements, voluntary resignations and employees changing jobs.
This budget dipped slightly in the first few years, reaching a low of $8.9 million for 2000-01. The budget then increased steadily for several years, reaching a peak of $13.1 million in 2008-2009.
The budget then began a steady decline, due to staff departures, a four-year wage freeze and the onset of the Great Recession, which brought a decrease in property values — and ad valorem taxes along with it. The following fiscal year, 2009-10, the budget was $12.45 million. In 2010-11, it was $11.6 million. Last year it was $11 million.
During every year we examined, the amount of actual expenditures never exceeded the office's approved budget.
The 2012-13 budget for Turner's office is yet again lower, with the state approving expenditures of $10.7 million. This is the basis for Turner's claim of his budget being $1 million less than when he took office. The difference between his first approved budget for 1997-98 and the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins in October, is $1,079,585, to be exact. This is a drop of about 9 percent since 1996.
Turner leaves out the fact that his office's budget swelled along with the housing boom before deflating with the recent recession. But given the boom and bust in property values, the increase in the number of assessed properties, and inflation, this is not an unreasonable fluctuation, especially considering the peak in 2008-09 was only 10.5 percent higher than when he took office in 1996. Since that peak, the budget decreased $2.3 million.
Turner's statement checks out. We rate it True.
PolitiFact Florida is partnering with 10 News for the 2012 election. See video fact-checks at PolitiFact.com/Florida.